Where Artists Get Inspiration: The Spark for The Purses Project

In my very first blog post I wrote about my wonderful grandmother and her untimely death to cancer as the inspiration for The Purses Project. Artists are inspired by so many things from the things we see to the experiences we go through or the injustice we notice. I’ve compared “inspiration” for artwork coming as a spark and (for me at least) it’s like a movie about painting starts playing in my head but with no sound only colors, forms, lines, etc. Ultimately, most artists are using color, line and form to SAY something of importance about the world they live in. Even if it’s just a quiet reminder to “notice”.

The Prince of Flowers ,Painting by Jamie Howell

The Prince of Flowers, Painting by Jamie Howell

I notice lots of things, especially the little unimportant things. I love to notice things in nature like dandelions or the metallic shell of a June bug. Not from a distance mind you, but very close up. I have always loved being in nature since my childhood in Tennessee.
detail of painting by Jamie Howell

detail of painting by Jamie Howell

A reminder to look up and “notice” people began with my graduate thesis and a field trip.
As part of our Art & Community class, our professor proposed a field trip to The Names Project in Atlanta. The Names Project is also commonly known as the Aids Memorial Quilt. I was not excited about trekking through downtown Atlanta traffic, but this field trip impacted me and was a creative spark for The Purses Project. The quilt is a monumental artwork that honors the significance of each person’s life lost to AIDS and the beautifully creative ways people heal from loss and grief. At the end of our tour, regardless of our different views or backgrounds, my classmates and I left saddened, reflective and deeply moved by this exhibit.
a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

a quilt panel of the Aids Memorial Quilt

As we moved to the back where the squares are stored and sewn, a reverent silence fell among the staggering view of shelves. The warehouse room was lined with shelf after shelf of quilt squares and deep storage containers-everywhere. Every open space of the tall shelves held hand-crafted quilt squares tightly stacked together and quietly waiting. Each quilt square waiting for a volunteer seamstress to sew various squares together into a 3×6 ft. quilt panel–and more squares will arrive almost daily to be added to these.
the aids quilt for notice blog post
aids quilt containers for notice blog post
As I stopped in front of a shelf, I realized each brightly colored fabric represented a life, not a statistic. As a mother, I knew that each square represented a child that a mother once held in her arms or someone’s grandchild or brother and so on. Each square is as uniquely different as the life is represents and sewn by family members or loved ones in a creative outpouring of love and grief. According to the http://www.aidsquilt.org, the colorful tapestry of 48,000 quilt panels serves as “a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease”.
Shelf of quilt squares

Shelf of quilt squares

As I drove home, I reflected on the Aids Quilt and the loss represented. For some reason, the loss of my grandmother to cancer nearly 20 years earlier began to resurface. I re-felt that pain in ways I had forgotten and ways I hadn’t given myself previous permission or time to feel. I realized that each panel maker of the AIDS Quilt had used art-making as a way to tell the story of their loved one and the devastation of AIDS but also as a courageous act to heal from their own grief. Over the next few weeks, through many other conversations, events and research that would make this a more lengthy post; the Purses Project was born.
This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

This quilt maker creatively used the actual clothing and hospital bracelet belonging to their loved one lost to AIDS

The focus of the project is the cancer epidemic among women. The feminine tool, the purse, is transformed into memorial art to honor individual women lost to cancer. The surface of a purse is “altered” with mixed media techniques to tell each woman’s unique story. Like the AIDS Quilt, this project is only possible through community involvement; individuals choosing to make an altered purse for their own female family member or loved one lost to cancer. As community members create purses in honor of their significant woman lost to cancer they will find empowerment and healing for their own grief. The ultimate goal for the project is a gallery exhibit of altered purses which lifts women out of the anonymity of statistics and signifies the ripple effect of each female life. Like the Aids Quilt, the true impact of cancer will be seen with the visual representation of many purses shown in mass number.

This was my most lengthy post to date and I appreciate your wading through the words and listening to my heart. If you have a lost a significant female in your life to cancer, please consider joining The Purses Project by making a purse.

Live Creatively,


Second Purse Finished–Help Me Decide?

Sometimes we don’t need to know all the answers, we just need to START. I started this project trusting that the answers would come if I would just begin. The Purses Project has been an exciting journey into social media, blogging and new art techniques. I still have a long way to go, but I learn something new every day by people sharing their advice and knowledge via blogs, videos, podcasts, twitter, etc.

I currently have a handful of women in the process of making purses for their significant female lost to cancer. I’ve tried to be their faithful guide/encourager through the process but I realized I had a problem. The purse I created for my grandmother was a wooden cigar box purse and NOT the typical leather purse that most women are using for the project. The beauty of this project is there is no right or wrong way to do the purses, but I still felt like I needed to try my hand at painting a leather purse.

Goodwill purse

Goodwill purse

I decided to paint a leather purse so I could know first hand how leather would respond to paint, mediums, glues, etc. Here’s the second purse I created in memory of my grandmother for The Purses Project.

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

This purse has some of the same references as the first purse but there are new images like her car (vintage Falcon), hand stitching, and the powder puffs from the Coty face powder that used to sit on her makeup table. I didn’t add as many photos of her but added more objects that reflect who she was.

Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

Detail of portrait. Mixed media/altered art purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

I learned a lot by painting this leather purse and will detail some of the how-to’s in next week’s posts. But first, I need your help–I like both purses, each for different reasons and can’t decide which one to use for the project.

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

mixed media/altered purse by Jamie Howell for The Purses Project

I appreciate your time to comment

Inspiring Lettering: Adding Her Name to the Purse

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Adding Her Name, The Purses Project is a memorial project so the name is an important part of each purse. There are no limits for “how” to do the name on your purse–you can paint it, draw it, stamp it, stencil it, glue it, sew it–you get the idea. The internet is a creative source, download free fonts from sources like the graphics fairy (www.thegraphicsfairy.com) or spell her name in cool vintage scrabble tiles or typewriter keys from Etsy or Ebay. Your local Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or JoAnn’s is stocked full of lettering in the scrapbooking section. Some of the examples below are not purses, but super easy to apply the general idea to your purse. For now, be inspired by the creative lettering done by amazing artists found on Pinterest:

Source: flickr.com via Jamie on Pinterest

Source: via Jamie on Pinterest

Source: bing.com via Jamie on Pinterest

Source: etsy.com via Jamie on Pinterest

Adding Her Name: How-To & A Clumsy Attempt at Sewing

hello-my-name-is sticker
A name is so precious and reveals much about who we are and who’s we are.
Since you are adding the full name of your significant female to the purse, this project also becomes a memorial art form. It is my hope that the multitude of names represented by the purses will:
!. Create a new conversation about cancer
2. Express the collective and individual importance of women
3. bring awareness to not only the disease but also to the grief that lingers in the hearts of family and friends
Type her full name in a word document, print it off, cut it out and mod podge it on to the purse. Simple and done!

Altered purse by Penny Richards  http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

Altered purse by Penny Richards
http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

Did she like scrabble? Why not glue scrabble pieces to spell out her name?
On the first purse I did, I used typewriter key stickers (found in the scrapbook section at Michael’s) and attached each one with E6000 glue. The possibilities for adding her name are endless and should reflect something about your significant female. For example, as a little girl I would pound away on her old typewriter and loved the old type it tapped out. The typewriter keys were a natural since they reminded me of her home and the fun of playing there.
blog version completed purse
Art making has the power to recall dormant memories. While working on my purse, I could suddenly remember things about my grandmother that I had forgotten like smells, the African Violets in her windows, the little knick knacks around her house, etc. I am working on a second purse (strictly for experimenting with techniques) and memories started flooding back about sewing and quilts. I started remembering some of the old quilts and hand stitches my grandmother did. Below is a pillowcase she made for me one year for Christmas. I absolutely treasure it to this day.
This is a cherished pillowcase made for me by my Nanny. Quilts and sewing were common place in this generation of women.

This is a cherished pillowcase made for me by my Nanny. Quilts and sewing were common place in this generation of women.

The artistic attempts of women often go unrecognized and many quilts are beginning to be appreciated as art forms like the quilts of Gee’s Bend and those by artist, Faith Ringgold. To honor my grandmother and the handcrafted art form of women, I wanted to add the stitches I remembered to the purse. If you know me well, you are snickering at this statement. That is a hilarious thought since I did NOT inherit any of my grandmother’s sewing abilities. While all of my grandmothers and great grandmothers could sew beautifully, I actually FAILED sewing in high school. I decided there had to be a little renegade sewing gene somewhere in my body so after many, many attempts to thread a needle (I think I went cross-eyed temporarily), I attempted to recreate some of the stitches I remembered.
Excuse the bad pic

Excuse the bad pic

A few of the stitches I remember from quilts and my pillowcase.
Okay, not great or even straight stitches (I think I see why I failed sewing) but it echoes some of the traditional folk art of women, recreates memories of my grandmother and it was actually fun despite my past failure with sewing. It’s not perfect but I felt a connection to my grandmother while I struggled with the needle and thread. When you are working on your purse, resist your inner critic, follow the process and remember my happy mantra:
Exactly what you need, will be there exactly when you need it!
I never thought I would attempt to sew on this purse, I just felt “led” to try it without even having any real ability. Here’s a question to ponder . . .
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you try something new and creative on your purse?
Yep, you could mess up. But art is forgiving–you’ll just try again or paint over it or pull it off the purse, that’s all! Try your hand at something new, it may turn out to be a new claim to your feminine heritage!

Any questions, please feel free to comment or contact me! Looking forward to seeing your creative purses to honor our remarkable women!

Her personal objects as a Life Map

After you’ve collected your photos and sparked your memories with the Life Imprints questions (https://thepursesproject.wordpress.com/category/recalling-memories-life-imprints/), NOW WHAT?
Adding personal objects belonging to your significant female can help to create a life map revealing more about her character, culture, career, passions, beliefs, etc.
Consider adding 3D objects and/or photocopied items such as:
personal items for purse
-Handwriting from documents, letters, cards, recipes, etc.
-Pieces of her favorite clothing or fashion accessories
-Pieces of home textiles such as bedding, tablecloths, doiles, lace sheers, etc.
-Jewelry or bits of broken jewelry
-Pages from her favorite book
-Keys to important places (home, vacation home, etc.)
-Awards, degrees, honors, etc.
-Pieces of her favorite game
-Her favorite song or poem
-Map of her favorite place, where she was born, etc.
-The container of her favorite cosmetic item (emptied of any remaining product that could melt or spill)
-Objects found in her purse (the contents of a woman’s purse are highly personal and can reveal much)
-Her favorite trinket or decorative item
-Her favorite flower or nature item (the scrapbook section of Michael’s has great 3D flowers)
-Travel mementoes
-Her favorite saying, mantra, etc.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea–not just her life in pictures but the things she touched and treasured as a woman.
All these items can be attached to the purse by using Mod Podge (lighter items), gel mediums or the ever awesome E6000 (heavier items)Here are some things I collected for my grandmother’s purse

My collection of objects that represent my grandmother

My collection of objects that represent my grandmother

As you can see, there’s everything from old lace sheers, scrapbook paper, keys, trim, roses, etc. I didn’t pick any items carelessly and each one signifies something about her life. For instance, the keys on her purse signify her role as a landlord, the roses were her favorite color and flower, the typewriter keys (spelling out her name) remind me of the old typewriter I played on at her house, and the restaurant receipt points to her job as a waitress.

Here they are on the completed purse

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

My completed purse for The Purses Project (Jamie Howell)

A note about adding things you truly love and want to keep:
The objects that remain after someone has passed often bear new meaning and serve as relics. These are objects we want to preserve, pass down or simply keep for our own memories. Don’t include these lovely items on your purse, instead think how you could buy a reproduction, recreate a copy, photocopy or photograph it. I had a beautiful cameo that my grandmother gave me that I couldn’t find and if I could find it, not sure I wanted to give it up. As fate would have it, I was wandering the aisles at Michael’s and I found this great embellishment kit at Michael’s in the scrapbook section. It had buttons and a small cameo (missing from kit, but see it on the finished purse).

Embellishments found at Michael's A&C

Embellishments found at Michael’s A&C

Inside was almost an exact copy of the cameo my grandmother gave me! I have a little life mantra that goes like this: “Exactly what you need will be there exactly when you need it” and such was the case here. I attached this replica to the purse instead of the actual cameo and found it was a better size for the purse. As you begin your purse, keep your eyes open for the possibilities and let the process lead you where it may.
Detail of the cameo, dolies, and typewriter keys.

Detail of the cameo, dolies, and typewriter keys.

I welcome any suggestions or comments about this post. What would you add if you were making a purse?

Life Imprints Activity: Recalling Memories of your Significant Female

blog pic  may 16 IMG_20130427_121452
On Grief and Life Imprints
During my graduate studies for this project, I found a technique used in grief therapy called Life Imprints. Life Imprints works on the basis of recalling memories and giving honor to what we have experienced in loss and transition. Many times loss happens quickly or in a way that we are in a heightened coping state and we are not aware of how we are being affected in the moments of the process. Women especially are not given adequate time to grieve as responsibilities to family and career take importance over self-care.
Bearing witness and telling our story is powerful for both us and the significant woman we’ve lost to cancer. In this process, I wanted to tell my grandmother’s story in a way that would honor all that she was, even the parts of her I didn’t fully know. I answered the Life Imprint questions to help me retrace my memories and begin my grandmother’s purse. I “rediscovered” my grandmother and gained confidence in my legacy of womanhood. While making my grandmother’s purse, I experienced the power of art to heal in that I started remembering things about my grandmother that were lost in my memory. Suddenly, I could remember with accurate detail her facial expressions, the smell of her house, the violets she kept in the kitchen window and so many other sweet things. Those sweet memories reclaimed began to replace the memories of her last days with cancer and I began to focus on identifying her without cancer.
If you are starting a purse for the project, consider taking a few moments privately to trace the imprint of your significant female in your life by answering these Life Imprints questions in a journal or notebook:

The person whose imprint I want to trace is:
This person has had the following impact on:
My mannerisms or gestures:
My ways of speaking and communicating:
My work and pastime activities:
My feelings about myself and others:
My basic personality:
My values and beliefs:
The imprints I would most like to affirm and develop are:
The imprints I would most like to relinquish or change are:

Altered Purse Artists: Inspiration for The Purses Project

Isn’t the web such a great place to find inspiration? Pinterest made it so easy for me to put together a board devoted to The Purses Project (http://pinterest.com/jamiehowell2/the-purses-project/) with altered purses, art techniques, videos and alternative purses such as book purses! You can see my completed altered purse at the “Getting Started on a Purse” (link to the right). I’ve also found two fantastic blogs with great altered purses and clear how to’s. Follow the links under their photos to see how they created their masterpieces and get your own creative juices flowing for your purse. REMEMBER, don’t forget to add the full name of the woman you are honoring as well as your own name as the purse maker. (see details on category: Getting started on a Purse)

Altered purse by Penny Richards  http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

Altered purse by Penny Richards
http://www.flickr.com/ pennyrichardsca

http://sarabatkin.blogspot.com/2010/08/zippedee-altered-purse.html Altered purse by Sara Batkin's Legacy of Love

Altered purse by Sara Batkin’s Legacy of Love